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Protocol for Displaying the American Flag
and Performing the National Anthem

The following information was provided by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. and the National Flag Foundation. We present this information here as a reference for your convenience only, for additional detailed information please contact the aforementioned organizations.

Protocol for National Anthems


Re: Protocol for order of National Anthems
Thu, 25 Oct 2001 13:23:25 -0400 (EDT)
Music Specialists

I consulted with the staff of the libraries of the Army and Marine bands here in Washington, who stated that protocol dictates that the American national anthem is always played last in cases where more than one anthem is performed on the same occasion, and performed on American soil. In cases where more than one anthem of a foreign country is performed, these anthems would be performed in alphabetical order by name of country... all preceding the American national anthem, of course.

With best wishes,

Kevin LaVine
Music Librarian
Music Division, Library of Congress


Re: National Anthems Query
Fri, 26 Oct 2001 14:44:10 -0400
Emily Howie

I have researched your question in more depth today and found documentation to support the statement that a foreign national anthem is played before the American anthem.

This fact is stated on the Air Force Wives Association web site in their Protocol instructions:    "Courtesy and long-standing usage indicate that foreign national anthem's are played before the American anthem. The national anthem may be played at the beginning, middle, or end of a program, the choice being made according to where it will be given the greatest dignity. The anthem is always played with dignity. There is never applause after its rendition. The anthem is never "jazzed up" to compete with modern music. The anthem is never played as part of a medley."

This information is also presented in the following publication from the reference collection of the Main Reading Room here in the Library of Congress:
Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage by Mary Jane McCaffree and Pauline Innis, Washington, D.C.: Devon Publishing Company, Inc., 1985.

From page 379 of the above book:    "It has been a long-standing practice to play the national anthem of a foreign visitor before the American anthem. Often questions are asked about this custom, but there is no regulation stating which order should be used, so courtesy and long-standing usage prevail."

Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Emily C. Howie
Library of Congress

America's Flag Authority

Flag   Etiquette

The United States Flag Code, first adopted in 1923 and later amended, prescribes flag etiquette for a variety of situations ensuring our national symbol a position of honor and respect. The Flag Code is not law, but a guide for civilians who wish to properly honor the United States of America's principal emblem. The American Flag should always be treated with the utmost care and respect. It represents a living country and, as such, is considered a living symbol. Always keep the flag clean and safe.

Always display the flag with the blue union field up -- never display the flag upside down, except as a distress signal.

Always carry the flag aloft and free -- never carry it flat or horizontally in processions or parades. The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing.

When displayed on the floor or on a platform, the flag is given the place of honor, always positioned behind the speaker and to the speaker's right with other flags, if any, at the left.

The "right" as the position of honor was established from the time when the "right hand" was the "weapon hand." The right hand raised without a weapon was a sign of peace. The right hand, to any observer, is the observer's left.

The American flag should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities or societies are grouped for display.

When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag's own right, and the observer's left.

When another flag is displayed with the U.S. Flag and the staffs are crossed, the Flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.

When several flags are flown from the same flag pole, the U.S. Flag should always be at the top -- except during church services by naval chaplains at sea when the church pennant may be flown above the U.S. Flag on the ship's mast. Flags of sovereign nations should not be flown on the same pole as the United States Flag but from separate poles.

When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.

In flying a flag at a private residence, house or apartment, all of the relevant guidelines in the Flag Code should be followed. The flag may also be hung vertically from a window, roof eave, or other structural overhang.

When the flag is hung on a wire or cable across a street, it should be hung vertically with the union to the north or east.

If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a structure to a pole at the outer edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be displayed with the union (field of stars) furthest from the building.

When flown with flags of States, communities, or societies on separate and adjacent flagpoles that are of the same height and in a straight line, the Flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor -- to its own right.

When a group of flags from States or localities or pennants of societies, the flag should be at the center and at the highest point. The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger. No other flag ever should be placed above the U.S. Flag. The Flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered when flags are flown from adjacent flagpoles.

When hung with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be approxmately the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously. The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.

The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line. The flag should be in front of the marchers.

At the moment the flag passes in a parade or procession, all persons should show respect by standing at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their hearts. Persons in uniform should face the flag and render their formal salute. During a parade it is appropriate to salute only the first United States Flag. When other flags are included, the United States Flag should be centered in front of the others or carried to their right.

The flag should be clean and without tears, rips or shredding. It may be flown at night only if illuminated and in inclement weather only if made of all-weather material. If displayed at night, the flag must be properly illuminated. Proper illumination means that the stars and stripes can be seen readily from a reasonable distance. When the flag is flying and the weather turns to rain, sleet, snow or otherwise, it is proper to leave it flying if it is made of all-weather material.

The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.

The American flag is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of the National Anthem; whichever is the longest.

To position the flag at half-staff, first hoist the flag to the peak of the staff for an instant and then, in respect for the deceased, lower it to the half-staff position -- roughly halfway between the top and bottom of the staff. Before lowering it for the day, raise the flag again to the peak of the pole.

To properly fold the American Flag:

1. Two people face each other, each holding one end of the flag. Stretch it horizontally at waist height and fold in half lengthwise.
2. Fold the flag in half lengthwise again, the union (stars) should be on the top.
3. One person holds the flag by the union while the other starts at the opposite end by making a triangular fold.

4. Continue to fold in the flag in triangles from the stripes end until only the blue field with stars is showing.

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. The flag should be burned in private at a private, non-public location. In many American communities, one or more organizations render an important community service by collecting and overseeing the proper disposal of old, worn, tattered, frayed and/or faded U.S. Flags. For information in your community, contact the American Legion, the Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the Benevolent Order of Elks to see if they provide a flag retirement service.

When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the blue field covering the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or touch the ground at any time. The flag should never be used as the covering for a headstone or other statue or monument.

When taken from the casket, the flag should be formally and properly folded as a triangle with only the stars showing. Triangular plastic or glass storage cases are avaiolable to hold the folded flag. The deceased may be shown respect by attaching an inscribed plaque of recognition on the base of the storage case.

Draping the casket with a United States Flag is an honor reserved for veterans or highly regarded state and national figures. Several organizations have defined the meaning of each fold when folding a flag from a casket. These are unique and original with each organization. None are official or included in the Flag Code.

Bunting of blue, white, and red always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

When the flag is displayed as a lapel pin, it should be worn on the left lapel -- near the heart.

Gold fringe frequently decorates the Flag of the United States, but it has no known record of symbolism and no meaning in national or international protocol. Fringe has long and frequently been used on military and organizational flags; it remains an embellishment without meaning. It is purely a decorative and optional addition. The Flag Code makes no reference to the use of fringe, cord and tassel, and no law or regulation either requires or prohibits the placing of gold fringe on the flag.

For more information, please contact the following sites:

National Flag Foundation

The United States Flag Page


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